My playthrough

Feeling like this game could be murder... literally? Well, come on in here for some extra detective work (and clues/hints/etc!) for the Laura Bow games (The Colonel's Bequest and The Dagger of Amon Ra).

Re: My playthrough

Postby adeyke » Tue Dec 05, 2017 9:48 am

I'd forgotten how long the back and forth with Clarence is. That sort of thing is good. So is Rudy getting upset with you and thus changing how he interacts in the future (that's the sort of "state" I'd been talking about). So those are the sorts of things the game could have used more of.

I'm also aware of the technological limitations of the time. They're not able to make characters that pass the Turing test. And I'm aware that player agency and the integrity of the plot are at odds. The player can never do things that are in conflict with the story the game is trying to tell. So if the player wants to just sleep through the night, or read all the books in the library, or sit down with one of the characters for a long philosophical discussion, they can't.

With all the said, however, it's still a plot hole if the story only works if the characters fail to something that would be obvious to them or if they fail to notice something that should be apparent. And it still doesn't make for a good mystery if neither the means nor the motives are at all plausible. And when a game is as heavily focused on the characters as LB1, it needs to have more effort into making them believable.

I'd mentioned earlier that just making the discovery of a corpse one of those things that advances the clock would do a lot for the problem of accidentally missing things by exploring in the wrong order. However, I don't have any quick fixes for bigger problems of the game, though. I think the structure of the game, the story, and the plot are just fundamentally at odds with each other, and it would take a major reworking to solve it.
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Re: My playthrough

Postby Tawmis » Tue Dec 05, 2017 2:28 pm

adeyke wrote:So if the player wants to just sleep through the night, or read all the books in the library, or sit down with one of the characters for a long philosophical discussion, they can't.


But... that's ... just about ... every Sierra game. In KQ4, you can just sit down and wait for daylight when night comes, for example. Same as even more advanced Sierra games, like Phantasmagoria or Gabriel Knight 2...
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Re: My playthrough

Postby adeyke » Tue Dec 05, 2017 3:12 pm

Sorry if my point was unclear. I'll try to clarify.

No game ever gives a player full agency. The game is designed to have some sort of experience and tell some sort of story, and the player can't deviate from this. It's 100% okay that you can't take any of the actions I listed.

However, if there are things that the player wants to do and that the character would be able to do and that would fit the character's motivations at the time, that can still be a problem. Laura doesn't have the motivation to sleep, read books, or have philosophical discussions, so it's okay that the game doesn't allow you to do those. However, as a baseline decent person, she does have the motivation to try to stop people getting murdered, so when the game doesn't allow her to even attempt to do that, the disconnect is jarring.

Just generally, ask yourself "Why doesn't character X do Y?". If the answer is something like "because they don't want to", "because they can't", "because they don't know that they should", "because they have other priorities", "because it's in their personality not to do that", or anything like that, it's probably fine. If, however, the best answer you can give is something like "because that's how the story goes" or "because the game doesn't let them", there may be a problem.
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Re: My playthrough

Postby BBP » Wed Dec 06, 2017 8:13 am

And then you play Phantasmagoria 2 and discover there's no way around it, to advance the plot you have to cheat on your girlfriend. That I thought crossed the line.

'Course personally I wouldn't even be able to sleep after finding the first corpse for a fortnight. I wouldn't be bothered by Laura not feeling compelled to sleep. It bothers me a bit that I can't read books, but then there's KQ4 which has around 30 or 40 Shakespeare quotations, and Gold Rush that has 10 bible pages.

If I recall correctly I found Wilbur before I found Gertrude, the game's lenient that way about the corpses. What I don't appreciate is the speed at which the bodies are moved by such a young girl. Nor do I appreciate that her motive really doesn't kick in until late in the game, the conversation with uncle Henri happens after a couple of murders. Nor is the presence of the boa feathers at Wilbur's crime scene ever explained, or Ethel's handkerchief (still for the last one I can imagine she'd borrow it)...

Yes, the game is flawed, like most games, it may have some plot holes and fridge logic like a whole lot of other fiction, but to what extent does it hinder experience? The Colonel's Bequest scared the bejeebies out of me.
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Re: My playthrough

Postby adeyke » Wed Dec 06, 2017 11:50 am

Regarding her motive, there's also the issue of Lillian's behavior being due her being "crazy". That sort of treatment of mental illness is really stigmatizing and ableist. Ditto for the idea that, because Henri can stand and walk for a while, he must be faking his disability. And then, of course, the portrayal of Celie is pretty racist. The game and its sequel deal a lot in stereotypes and caricatures.

I'm completely with you regarding the scary atmosphere, though, and have always said that.
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Re: My playthrough

Postby Tawmis » Wed Dec 06, 2017 3:03 pm

BBP wrote:And then you play Phantasmagoria 2 and discover there's no way around it, to advance the plot you have to cheat on your girlfriend. That I thought crossed the line.


For you, morally, it would cross the line. But in the game, you're controlling a character who has a "pre-established" personality. So you're working them through the story. It's not like most modern RPGs where you can pick your answers and be a good guy. The dude in PHANT2 is kind of a scumbag. :)
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Re: My playthrough

Postby BBP » Wed Dec 06, 2017 6:47 pm

adeyke wrote:Regarding her motive, there's also the issue of Lillian's behavior being due her being "crazy". That sort of treatment of mental illness is really stigmatizing and ableist. Ditto for the idea that, because Henri can stand and walk for a while, he must be faking his disability. And then, of course, the portrayal of Celie is pretty racist. The game and its sequel deal a lot in stereotypes and caricatures.

I'm completely with you regarding the scary atmosphere, though, and have always said that.


Henri is also able to make use of the secret passages, which would require considerable force and agility. Plus you find his cane, which means he can do some fundamental things without that thing. We need to know that he's not helpless and that he's potentially capable of not-too-physical murder.

When it comes to her mental disability, you'll have to remember that it was the roaring 20s and both the massive change in attitude and massive improvement in diagnosis and treatment towards people with psychiatric problems is a lot more recent than that.
It makes sense that Celie still lives on the plantation and has an accent associated with Southern people of colour - she's the daughter of slaves who worked on the plantation. Lillian asks her for some gris-gris at some point. And don't forget that things some consider racist now weren't considered racist twenty years ago.
Even so, I can imagine you'd go to stereotypes when you have a limited exposition time (game takes place over a few hours).
If you want to see what I mean, play Voyeur and watch how they crammed half a year's worth of soap opera plots into 48 in-game hours. Reason: there are 4 possible victims with all stories playing out at the same time until way into the 2nd day, meaning their father/uncle/brother must've had a reason to get rid of them, meaning they all need to be set to blackmail or otherwise endanger the Big Evil Guy's position as CEO and presidential candidate. And then add a couple of red herrings and some fan service.

Colonel's Bequest has the same problem with the setting and the limited time. In a book you can flashback, in this game you cannot. Still there are so many motives that need to be played out: stealing the money for the horse that's gone cripple, the flirting of Rudy, Fifi playing the field with Henri and Jeeves, Ethel being extorted out of her land, Gloria's medical problem, Gloria wishing to break up with Clarence... So there's your red herrings and in the bedroom scene with Fifi there's potential fan service.

[/spoiler]
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Re: My playthrough

Postby Collector » Wed Dec 06, 2017 9:58 pm

You can say that the portrayal of Celie is racist, but you must remember that this is set in the Jim Crow South. This is not to justify that view of race, but it is in keeping with racial views of the time and place.
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Re: My playthrough

Postby adeyke » Wed Dec 06, 2017 11:19 pm

I'm not saying it's a portrayal of racism but that it's a racist portrayal.

Almost her entire characterization can summed up as "the Mammy".

Just consider the way the accent is spelled out. English isn't a phonetic language, so no matter what accent someone is speaking, it'll sound different than the written text. There's also no such thing as "accent-free English"; it's just that some accents get accepted as more standard. So all of the characters have an accent, and none of it matches how English is spelled, but it's still just written out as ordinary English, with two exceptions: Fifi gets a "z" instead of all the "th" sounds, and in almost every one of Celie's line, there's some sort of change in spelling to reflect the accented pronunciation. It does this even in those cases where the word is pronounced like it "normally" is (e.g. "wuz" instead of "was", "bizness" instead of "business"). Singling her out has the effect of othering her, and it makes her dialogue needlessly difficult to read.

Of course, that's nothing compared to LB2's Lo Fat.

I do think that writing historical fiction set in such a deeply racist time period is tricky. It can be hard to do that without either whitewashing the racism (by pretending it didn't exist) or normalizing it (by presenting it but not commenting on it and making the audience sympathize with the racist characters). However, the difficulty of doing it right doesn't mean we can't point out when something does it wrong.
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Re: My playthrough

Postby BBP » Thu Dec 07, 2017 6:12 am

And Fifi's accent is spelled phonetically but that doesn't bother you? Fifi's a worse stereotype because she's given a negative character trait sleeping with Henri to get things done while she has a relationship with Jeeves, not sure whether or not Jeeves knows but either way it's not good, while Celie is the only character that's never even set up with a motive and is the only character along with Rudy who's never murdered.

I have trouble with phonetically spelling accents as a non-native speaker, it makes text much harder to read and doesn't add anything at all.
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Re: My playthrough

Postby adeyke » Thu Dec 07, 2017 8:55 am

I was focusing on Celie, but yes, Fifi bothers me as well. It does make it harder to read, and its only effect is to keep reminding the player "don't forget, she's French so she has difficulty with the 'th' phoneme that's not present in her language". The game could have done without that.

And yes, having the one French character be sleazy and try to use sex to get her way isn't good.

I get that good characterization can be a lot of hard work, but using racial, ethnic, or national stereotypes to shortcut this is lazy and harmful. And since LB1 is so character-focused, it really stands out.
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Re: My playthrough

Postby BBP » Thu Dec 07, 2017 11:58 am

It was the late 80s, Are You Being Served had only just moved aside for 'Allo 'Allo.. I really don't think it's fair to hold late 80s games to today's standards. It's nigh 30 years old!
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Re: My playthrough

Postby adeyke » Thu Dec 07, 2017 3:31 pm

It's true that, in the past, various bigotries were more mainstream than they are now. But that's a quantitative, not qualitative change. Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and various other bigotries are still mainstream now. Everything is a product of its time, so if that means not being able to judge old works, the same would go for contemporary works. No matter how bad a contemporary work is, someone from the future could (assume things have improved by then) say "it's from the time of Brexit and the Trump presidency, so what do you expect?". But that sort of thing erases the fact that even at a given time in history, some people were still more bigoted than others.

You said earlier "things some consider racist now weren't considered racist twenty years ago". However, this isn't because we're now categorizing as racist things that were harmless before. Rather, it's that people are becoming more cognizant of how racist things have always been. People of color have always been around, and racism has always harmed them, even if it wasn't acknowledged at the time. Ditto for women, LGBTQIA people, and members of any other marginalized group facing the respective bigotry against them. Even in 1989, if someone from Sierra had cared about whether there were issues with the portrayal, they could have just asked someone.

Also, at best, knowing that it's from so long ago could explain the racism, but it doesn't excuse it, and it certainly doesn't remove it.
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Re: My playthrough

Postby BBP » Thu Dec 07, 2017 7:12 pm

That's really something that would require more argumentation from me as a former history student than I'm interested in posting here. But let me summarize it as follows: if you continue to use 2010s intellectuality, morality and high-level education onto societies where the Bible was considered the ultimate source of knowledge, you're not going to last long. This also works on smaller scale, you'll have to have a good understanding of 19th century nationalism to grasp the art well without being too offended by its antisemitism that comes with it.
It also works on a micro scale within generations. People's ideas of what is acceptable and what isn't changes all the time.*
*something Charlie Hebdo illustrated perfectly and controversially by suggesting the cute little Alan (the drowned Syrian boy responsible for the Wir Schaffen Es openness to Syrian refugees in Germany) would have grown up to become an assaulter like the ones in Cologne on NYE 2016)

I believe the current rise of people speaking out on discrimination over gender/sexuality/colour/religion/fill in the blank has to do with the economy being poor. If the economy recovers fully, minorities get too busy. In days of bad economy, the minorities are the first to suffer, and the ones who take the hardest blow. Don't take the current open-mindedness about sexuality and all as permanent or as enlightened. Who knows what will happen in five, ten years time.
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